Recent news highlights how playing violent video and action games can sharpen player’s visual skills and boost brain performance. For the first time, researchers show both the benefits and harm of violent video gaming.
In a series of new studies, psychologists find playing violent video games comes with a cost of losing impulse control.
Loss of impulsiveness can lead to anger and hostility and inability to control aggression, the researchers found.
Craig Anderson, Director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University speculated in a press release any type of action video game that requires a rapid response could have the same effect.
“But what is not so speculative is the growing body of research that links violent video games -- and to a certain extent, total screen time -- to attention-related problems and, ultimately, to aggression,” Anderson added.
In three new unpublished studies scheduled for presentation at the American Psychological Association (APA) annual meeting in Honolulu, Anderson and his colleagues found violent video games boost cognition, but they also lead to loss of cognitive control and boost anger aggression and hostility.
In one study participants that were not regular gamers played the fast-paced and violent video game Unreal Tournament (2004), the slow-paced game Sims 2, or nothing for ten 50-minute sessions over the course of 11 weeks.
Compared to the Sims 2 and non-game players, participants that played violent games had marked decreases in proactive cognitive control, though their visual skills were sharper.
Anderson and Edward Swing, also of Iowa State University, also looked at 422 people to assess their TV and video game habits to find out if exposure to violent media and total screen time contributes to attention problems.
Total media exposure and violent media exposure both contributed directly to attention problems that destroy inhibition, the researchers found, which is in keeping with past studies.
Violent media was associated with greater aggression, anger and hostility, but total media was not.
The researchers explain the ability to control impulsive aggression is dependent on good executive control of which there are two types.
"Proactive cognitive control involves keeping information active in short-term memory for use in later judgments, a kind of task preparation," Anderson explains. "Reactive control is more of a just-in-time type of decision resolution.”
When the researchers looked at premeditated and impulsive aggression they found both types were associated with attention problems from violent video gaming.
Anderson says, "This is theoretically consistent with the idea that attention problems interfere with people's ability to inhibit inappropriate impulsive behavior."
The studies are the first to link both the benefits and harm of playing violent video games. “What such fast-paced media fail to train is inhibiting the almost automatic first response," Anderson says, which is also the essence of ADD and ADHD. The benefits for boosting visual skills from violent gaming come with the price of increased anger, hostility and aggression.